The 1973 Bette Midler hit song proclaims that you have to have friends to make the day last long. There is something to the song: There’s scientific evidence that having friends can also make your life, and your good health, last long too.
The Nurses’ Health Studies launched by Harvard University in 1976 (and others), supports that good friendships, especially for women, are linked to good health, more vitality as we age and possibly even longer life – not to mention more joy.
Friends, whether casual or close, offer support and stress relief during tough times including loss, illness and other personal challenges. Friends can also share in your happiness, celebrations and achievements as well as encourage you when you are trying to accomplish something important like exercising, quitting smoking or otherwise improving your health.
Since we tend to adopt the attitudes and habits of those we spend much of our time with, making and nurturing friendships with people who are living healthy lifestyles and who have a positive outlook can propel us into better health and well-being.
Yet when life gets busy and hectic, it’s often our time with friends that suffers the most.
So how can you keep the ‘good’ friends you have or make new ones? Here are several ways:
Friendship is a two-way street. To have good friends, you have to be a good friend. Stay in periodic touch if you don’t see each other often. Cheer their successes, share in their happiness, and offer help and support when needed. Sometimes just a quiet presence or word of encouragement is all that is needed. Spend fun, social time together whenever possible. It is time and energy well invested in the relationship and in your own physical and mental health.
Don’t have many friends or need some new ones? Even the most shy person can find new friends through volunteer work, by taking a class (yoga, dancing, accounting), joining a club (running, quilting, gardening), attending a support group or participating in an online community. When you connect with people who have a shared interest or situation, you automatically have something in common with them and may connect on a special level.
Be sure that the friendships you decide to make and nurture also nurture you. If your ‘friend’ is a “Debbie Downer” – someone who mostly complains and criticizes and leaves you feeling worse than before your encounter with them – or if it is someone who regularly sabotages your efforts toward self-improvement, it may be time to move on and find some new, more positive pals. Remember, if misery loves company, so does success, happiness and health.